Monday, August 26, 2013

NCAA XC Top 31 Countdown: Men's #7- New Mexico

Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.

New Mexico
Head Coach: Joe Franklin (7th Season)
2012 National Finish- 21th

Key Returners from 2012
  • Luke Caldwell (Sr., 3:44 1500m, 13:29 5k)
  • Ross Millington (Sr., 3:41 1500m, 7:49 Open 3k, 13:36 5k)
  • Adam Bitchell (Sr., 3:43 1500m, 4:05 Mile, 8:08 Open 3k, 13:57 5k)
  • Sean Stam (Sr., 14:03 5k, 29:46 10k)
  • Elmar Engholm (So., 3:45 1500m, 8:49 3k Steeple)
  • Pat Zacharias (Jr., 14:01 5k, 30:39 10k)
  • Sam Evans (Sr., 3:43 1500m, 4:02 Mile)
  • Alex Herring (Jr., 1:49 800m, 3:45 1500m)

Impact Recruits/Transfers
  • Alex Cornwell (Jr., From U.K.- 3:43 1500m, 8:09 Open 3k)
  • Ross Matheson (Jr., From U.K.- 3:46 1500m, 21st UK XC- All Ages- Nat'l Champs '13)
  • Jake Shelley (Jr., From U.K.- 3:46 1500m, 8:09 Open 3k)

Season Preview

Coach Joe Franklin says this is the best team that he has ever coached. This coming from a guy who has coached some solid teams in his career (coached Butler to a podium finish in 2004). If you look at their roster above, you can see why. The Lobos are absolutely loaded. Franklin has found a good balance between finding outstanding foreign recruits and mixing them in with the local talent and producing very good teams, year in and year out. 

The Lobos are led by two athletes with very good track credentials to go along with nice cross country experience. Luke Caldwell came to Albuquerque in 2012 and was instantly the no. 1 runner for the Lobos, while Millington was injured. Caldwell claimed the Mountain West Conference individual honors and had a very good showing at NCAAs finishing 27th. Caldwell kept his momentum from cross country going into the indoor and outdoor seasons where he finished 8th at the Indoor 5k and 7th at the Outdoor 5k. With his sub-13:30 ability, Caldwell is a shoo-in for a top-40 finish and is a potential top-15 finisher individually. 

Ross Millington has had plenty of time the past few years to think about the last time her ran a cross country race. The last time he spiked up for a race on the grass was in 2011, where he dropped out of the National Championships and his team finished 31st. There might not be a guy in country as motivated as Millington is for redemption. He has all of the tools to be a top-40 guys and to roll right with Luke Caldwell to a top-20 individual finish. His 7:49 3k and 13:36 5k PRs are superb, and those times should equate, as long as he's healthy, to another key low-stick for the Lobos. 

The rest of the returning guys for New Mexico have quality experience in cross country and on the track. Adam Bitchell was injured outdoors and if he can get healthy and get the necessary base, he will be a very good no. 3 for the Lobos (on paper). He has the ability to rise up and be another big time cross country guy for Franklin if he's healthy. Sean Stam has had a very consistent career in Albuquerque where he has gone from a walk-on to an All-Conference athlete. He provides stability to their top-7.  

Elmar Engholm is a young, but very talented runner. Engholm had a good track season, but was actually more impressive at Nationals in Louisville, where he stepped up big and was the no. 2 runner on the team finishing 85th. That kind of quality experience will help him push to make the top-five again this year (they are that loaded). 

Pat Zacharias is a local kid who spent a little while at Arizona before transferring back to his home state in New Mexico. Franklin has done an excellent job developing him and he has similar attribute to Stam as a solid and consistent performer, race in and race out. 

Sam Evans and Alex Herring are track studs that have yet to prove themselves on the cross country course. If that changes for either one of these guys and they can make the jump from their track abilities to cross country and 10k, they just add to the unreal depth of this team. 

What is even scarier about these Lobos is the awesome recruiting class that Joe Franklin pulled in, mostly coming by way of transfers from the U.K. Ross Matheson is the most ready to jump in and help out New Mexico right away in cross country. Matheson was 21st in the all U.K. cross country championships and will be pushing Caldwell and Millington up front. Alex Cornwell has the best 1500m PR of the bunch (3:43) and has the same 3k PR that the other recruit has, Jake Shelley (8:09). 

Honestly, if these guys all stay healthy and are fit, this is a podium team. Since Franklin has gotten to Albuquerque, New Mexico has yet to have a fantastic finish at Nationals. With the Mountain Region being brutal every year, New Mexico will need to be picking up points earlier in the year (they'll be fine) to make sure they can cruise through the Regional in Ogden, Utah. 

Joe Franklin is looking to finally have a podium team in New Mexico, and if there ever was a year for that to happen, this is it. With the possibility of three All-Americans and some awesome transfers, (we did not even mention Peter Callahan of Princeton transferring--granted he's never had much success in xc, which could change) these Lobos are the most dangerous team in the NCAA in 2013. 

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